San Francisco is opening new COVID-19 testing sites to help reduce waiting times. (Shutterstock)

SF expands testing capacity for COVID-19 as demand increases

San Francisco announced a 45 percent increase in testing capacity Wednesday as health officials seek to decrease wait times and reach residents in some of the hardest hit areas.

The expanded testing capacity comes as cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations continue to rise.

The increased rate of COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals helped put The City on California’s watchlist Friday among more than 30 counties, requiring San Francisco to follow the state’s more stringent restrictions for reopening. San Francisco had to shutter indoor malls and nonessential offices as a result.

Dr. Grant Colfax, the director of the Department of Public Health, said Wednesday that a demand for testing is growing due to “a surge in cases.” He noted that The City is now averaging 79 new diagnosed cases daily and “we know there are more cases out there as the virus continues to spread.”

“It is getting harder for individuals to book an appointment and taking longer to get test results,” he said. Colfax on Friday said that “some San Franciscans are waiting a week or more for an appointment and sometimes as long as that for their results.”

Mayor London Breed joined Colfax to announce “three major expansions” for people to get tested.

She said that in the past seven days The City has on average tested about 3,200 people daily, but that “we need to do more now, especially with people facing longer wait times to get their results and also to get tested in the first place.”

The City will expand its existing CityTestSF site at the Embarcadero to add 400 new slots per day. The site administers tests for essential workers like firefighters, police officers and health care workers.

The City will also launch two mobile popup sites that can test up to 250 people per day. One will begin this week and the other next week.

“Both of these mobile sites will rotate to different neighborhoods in The City that are seeing high rates of COVID-19 and need more testing options,” Breed said.

And lastly, The City will launch a third CityTestSF site in the southeast part of San Francisco.

“The location for the site is still being developed with community input but it should launch in August with the ability to begin testing 500 people per day,” Breed said.

All told, Breed said the expansion will create the opportunity to test up to 1,400 more people daily.

Colfax called testing a key strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s an important one and especially when paired with contact tracing it can help us contain COVID-19,” he said.

The City also expects an increase in testing capacity with a new health order that requires private health care providers to perform tests on their patients with symptoms and who have close contacts with those who tested positive and asymptomatic workers and residents at risk of exposure.

The requirements of the order went into effect Wednesday. Health care facilities must also notify patients through their websites of the testing access beginning July 29.

Colfax said that The City is conducting two-thirds of all COVID-19 testing “and we know that many of the people seeking testing from the city have private insurance.”

The health order, he said, will “help free up San Francisco’s public testing programs for the people who need it most, including people who do not have insurance.”

Breed emphasized that “we know that we can’t test our way out of this pandemic” and reminded everyone to continue to wear face coverings, wash their hands and remain at least six feet apart.

City officials attribute the rise in cases since mid-June to multiple causes.

Those include increases in economic activity, more social gatherings, mixing of people among different households, “limited compliance to indoor worksite requirements for face coverings, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and environment disinfection,” and “continuing infections in low-income crowded housing and among lower-wage essential workers,” according to the California Department of Public Health, which monitors counties on the watchlist.

There were 5,459 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 53 deaths as of Wednesday. Ninety-one persons are hospitalized, of which 24 are in intensive care.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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